Vietnam vet gets long-awaited medals
James Procopio receives medals in ceremony at congressman’s office
By Hailey Van Parys firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: November 21, 2016 5:36 p.m.
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When it came time for James Procopio to graduate from Manhattan College in 1964, he had three options: join the military, get married or move to Canada. He picked the first of the three, choosing to enlist in the U.S. Air Force right out of school.
The 74-year-old man served and was honorably discharged, but he never received his awards, medals or ribbons.
He was due an Air Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Longevity Service Award Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
“I explained that I wasn’t sure what happened to (the awards),” said Procopio, who was born and raised in Staten Island, N.Y.
He was able to get the awards after he made a call to the office of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, in May. Procopio received them in a ceremony at Collins’ office on Monday morning.
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Procopio’s daughter who lives in Orlando, Fla., Kerry McGavin, her husband Jon McGavin and their three boys Jackson, 13, Collin, 11, and Hudson, 8, were all there to support him, as well as Procopio’s son Drew Procopio. Procopio’s other son, Scott Procopio, wasn’t able to attend the medal-giving.
Col. Jim Martin, a longtime friend of Procopio’s, also came.
During the Vietnam War, Procopio flew planes from his base in Charleston, S.C., to wherever the soldiers were at the time, a 20,000-mile round trip that he took two or three times a month.
“Someone was looking out for me (out there),” Procopio said. He would get a 24-hour notification that he would be taking an “eastbound trip,” which was Air Force lingo for Vietnam. He would fly from Charleston to Alaska to Japan and then to Vietnam, usually. Sometimes they would have to pick up troops or goods in various places in the U.S. before heading off.
He would bring troops what they needed, including flying a planeload full of toilet paper once, he said. When he would bring the goods, he was often called a garbage hauler.
More solemnly, Procopio said he also flew the dead and wounded back.
“They didn’t dare call us garbage haulers, then,” Procopio said through a few tears. The soldiers he carried back home were “the real heroes,” he said.
Palettes of four of five coffins, which were usually six deep, were loaded onto his planes by forklifts.
“It freaked me out … it was disrespectful,” Procopio said.
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Since then, however, Procopio worked as a security officer on a cruise ship and was able to take his wife to 103 countries.
“You made up for it,” Patty Procopio said to her husband.
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Procopio, James [MC1964]
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